Portland Light Rail Revolt Continues

Published March 12, 2014

In a hard fought election campaign, voters in the city of Tigard  appear to have narrowly enacted another barrier to light rail expansion in  suburban Portland. The Washington  County Elections Division reported that with 100 percent of precincts  counted, Charter Amendment 34-210 had obtained 51 percent of the vote, compared  to 49 percent opposed.

The Charter Amendment establishes as city policy that no  transit high capacity corridor can be developed within the city without first  having been approved by a vote of the people. High capacity transit in Portland  has virtually always meant light rail.

In a previous ballot issue, Tigard voters had enacted an  ordinance requiring voter approval of any funding for light rail. Similar  measures were enacted in Clackamas  County as well as King City in Washington County. Across the Columbia River  in Clark County (county seat: Vancouver), voters rejected funding for  connecting to the Portland light rail system. After  the Clackamas County Commission rushed through a $20 million loan for light  rail (just days before the anti-light rail vote), two county commissioners were  defeated by candidates opposed to light rail, with a commission majority now in  opposition.

Further, a Columbia River Crossing, which would have  included light rail to Vancouver was cancelled after the Washington legislature  declined funding. In a surreal aftermath, interests in Oregon seriously  proposed virtually forcing the bridge on Washington, fully funding the project  itself. A just adjourned session of the Oregon legislature failed to act on the  proposal, which now (like Rasputin) appears  to be dead.

At the same time, Portland’s transit agency faces  financial difficulty and has been seriously criticized  in a report by Secretary of State. The agency has more than $1 billion in  unfunded liabilities and carries a smaller share of commuters than before the  first of its six light rail and commuter rail lines was opened. Moreover, the  latest American Community Survey data indicates that 3,000 more people work at  home than ride transit (including light rail and commuter rail) to work in the  Portland metropolitan area. Before light rail (1980), transit commuters  numbered 35,000 more than people working at home. Over the period, transit’s  market share has dropped one-quarter.

[Originally posted at New Geography]